View from a Walkie-Talkie; the Sky Garden, London

View from a Walkie-talkie

The Sky Garden, a view of London in the round.     Or: Daze out in London

If you get off the tube at Bank and exit via Lombard Street you can see the building known as the Walkie-Talkie looming, or is it leering? over the skyline a short distance away.  I have to admit to disliking its external shape despite its probably well-known and understood architectural and aesthetic positives.  It is purely the height and shape I dislike, sorry.

You have to zig-zag across streets and round corners to find the entrance to the building as it is  not quite as close as you thought. When you arrive at its foot you can tell it is a giant footprint but the entrance for the Sky Garden is a small lobby with smiling guides (guards) to check you have tickets and direct you into the queuing chicane where your ticket is scanned and you walk along to the security check-in.   Don’t be like me and have change in a pocket, a leather pouch on my belt that has a Press-stud closure and rivets on the belt hooks!  If you remember to remove all these (as I did), as well as coat and phone and rucksack you may find yourself overtaken by those less encumbered as you try to collate yourself!     Another option is to forget and raise the detector alarms as well as hackles of those helping you through the system.  Happily, in London I have only had pleasantries on such occasions but not so at the few airport mis-haps………

I am not good at heights, I darent go on the slightest of exposed climbs or paths despite bravado or wishful enthusiasm.  Luckily I am now old enough to be open about it and was promised plenty of space between me and the glass walls, even a garden area to hide in.  I had no idea what to expect as I had not even thought about checking this visit out on the internet and stepped into the lift with about twelve other people.  Within a few seconds we stopped, I hadn’t realised we were moving, and we all stepped out.  A fascinatingly fast ride for the storeys we had risen.

skygarden-left

wordparc: view from Sky Garden

Good gracious, I was promised space but had not expected football pitches almost, with a large coffee shop and many scattered tables in front of a huge glass wall and revolving doors leading out to what must be the biggest verandah (nice old-fashioned term) in width and length along the front of the building.  Actually it was the size of a mall’s marble plaza or large, high auditorium.  Steps on both sides led you upwards again through sub-tropical vegetation and beside the glass walls with London sitting all around.  The steps led up to a fully fledged restaurant plus another viewing area behind it.  With beautiful wooden seating and ledges along the back wall (of glass).  This time with a view that included the Gherkin.

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Yes, I did venture out on the verandah, yes I did almost approach the edge with its high wall and higher glass wall atop.   And eventually I stepped to the handrail and looked out on the wonderful view whilst keeping a firm hold of the cool stainless rail.   I suppose I can regret that the sun didn’t glint off St Paul’s as it sat so far below us.  Nor did the Shard look quite so ethereal in the light-grey covered sky and background of London buildings.  You could see St Pancras, KIngs Cross and Waterloo railway stations.  The ubiquitous BT Telecom Tower was but a small matchstick.    Alexandra Palace sat almost on the horizon and assorted blocks of offices or flats littered their way out to the skyline.

skygarden-wide

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Those few steps outside where the breeze slipped over the glass gave you the impression of actually being outside and not on an almost enclosed balcony made the view of the river, its assorted boats and all its vagaries of buildings and streets, look untidily impressive.

The Tower of London, quite imposing from close quarters, was peered down on and its then brown shadowed walls looked compact and enclosing, but small.  Such is the perspective of time and place, I suppose.

So there it is.  A dramatic view enabling much of London to be seen if you know where to look and the weather works for you.   Maybe they will decide on having a model or a map somehow identifying  some of the landmarks that are visible.  Especially for the tourists, who seemed in the majority.  No doubt it would have to be a touch-screen virtual map with the views overlaid with tags of information.   Problem might be if it became more popular than actually looking at the scenes and guessing!   As the tickets are few and far between, snapped up quickly when released for Londoners, it is not an easy place to visit.  Well worth it though, even the coffee.

thames4

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Another few seconds in the lift and we were out as if from another world and having a walk along the Thames before shrugging off the now dampening weather and ducking into the side streets again to find a coffee-cafe in one of the many railway arches.  Here the coffee was delicious and their home-made cakes and open sandwiches were all a ‘must go back for’.

Question:  Where was it?  Looks like another day trying to track it down!

Dyspraxia: Dr Amanda Kirby; Graph Review

Dyspraxia,   Developmental Co-ordination Disorder

by    Dr Amanda Kirby                                            A Graph Review

bodies graph

Souvenir Press   978 028563512 8.         paperback.         £12.99

8th reprint, dated 2009.

218 pp, including glossary, index and directory of resources.                         Plus numerous, gently humerous, but accurate line illustrations.

dyspraxia-a-kirbyThe notes on the back cover highlight this book as ‘a parent’s guide from pre-school to adulthood‘.

In the introduction the author confirms the aim towards explaining to parents, aiding their understanding and potentially how to help the development of their children with the varying degrees of poor co-ordination.  She is also well aware that teachers need to understand and have  a working knowledge of handling children with this difficulty even if not specifically diagnosed.  This book will certainly give both information and help to teachers.

Amanda Kirby is a former GP and Medical Director of the Dyscovery Centre, internationally recognised and published widely as well as having lectured to over 20,000 teachers.  And first -hand knowledge with a son with dyspraxia.  (Looking on web shows Dyscovery Centre as a unit of the University of South Wales, UK).   Clearly written, helping to understand and offering many helpful tips on the various difficulties through childhood to adulthood, for families living with levels of these assorted disorder.

‘Dyspraxia’ also points out that adults may well have degrees of dyspraxia without having been diagnosed but are coping with its associated difficulties.

The book begins with a brief explanation and description of dyspraxia and potential effects within a family.  Frequent samples are included throughout to give realistic views of problems and observations from within sufferers and family members. From pre-school right through schooldays and into adulthood she offers examples of difficulties and tips for the ‘helper’ and individual with the condition.

The chapters move along in sequences of age, appropriate development and difficulties.  Check-lists help pinpoint areas, followed by tips, suggestions,that will help development or maybe use alternative abilities if appropriate. These checklists are usefully labelled for circumstances and parents and teachers. And a chapter for ‘play’ and some helpful ideas, shows its importance for children.  For teachers, the settings are usually in classroom or suggested educational settings and look to be covering more options, some of which are similar to the ‘parenting’ hints.  The parent should be able integrate any of these ‘additional’ ideas into the family routine where appropriate.

Subjects covered in addition to the primary and secondary school ages are such as ‘Bullying’, ‘Helping the Distractable Child’, self-esteem, growing-up and ‘adulthood.  Lastly she has comment chapters on causes (not really sure), when should diagnosis be approached and lastly ‘differential diagnosis.’  Which includes such as ‘semantic pragmatic disorder.

All in all this book is an extremely useful book for explaining and encouraging both those with the varying degrees of co-ordination disorder and their parents, family and teachers.  As with many issues the various activities that improve (in this case, co-ordination) can be most effective if exercised at earliest appropriate age but should be tried even if the need is only recognised later.  Other techniques may be adoptable and successful, whilst understanding and support from within family and school could well have much beneficial effects.

Parents may well be aware of problems early and should find this book helpful from the earliest ages to help reduce potential problems later.

I would recommend this to teachers, especially in the counselling areas as well as parents and those with elements of Dyspraxia.

For a wide range of titles on S. E. N. visit:   BooksEducation website

subject:  education

Neptune and Poseidon

Neptune looked across at Poseidon.

“It is difficult to meet on neutral territory.  It is best we meet in the forests. Here we can be seen by all and they care nothing for us.”

Poseidon looked at the old man and his long straggling beard.  “It is always good to talk, we can’t always be at cross-currents.  It is an eternal struggle, a calm is brief rest.  Why meet?”

Neptune fingered the grey beard. “There is someone new.”  He looked at Poseidon through sea-green eyes, “Have you bred her?”

“Me?” Who do you speak of?”

“Of whom!”

“Who?”

“Anvil.”

Neptune watched Poseidon check-listing his memory, grew irritated at the glazed expression as the mind worked. “No.  Nymphs, naiads, humans, well more or less, sylphs and hobbits and such  like but not one called Anvil.”  He shook his head, at a loss.  “You?”

Neptune gave his beard a tug of annoyance.  “Why ask you? Why meet in this blasted forest if it is mine?”

“Maybe you forgot? You’re not so young anymore”

Neptune felt his water pressure rising. “You’re no cub anymore!”

Poseidon smiled, “But I have plenty of cubs I can play with. The variety is quite enjoyable. The coping strategies interesting. Keeps me young. You should have been more prolific, it’s fun.”

“There are already too many of us interfering in the lives of others.  The humans believe in us, in all of us. Isn’t that enough?”

“Well, its Romans versus Greeks.  We chose our sides and its up to us how we play them.  Chess is always a long term game.  Incidentally, I am probably older than you, and I’ve still got it!”  Poseidon, clean cut and in full belief of his status as a god felt remarkably calm as he saw Neptune wavering before him.   “Maybe you should talk to Zeus, maybe Thor or trot along to Osiris.  You never know it might even be Gog or Magog trying a stunt over here.”    He looked at his hands.  “I must change, I have someone to visit.”

Neptune began to regret this meeting.  “She created a storm.” He said urgently.

“Oh well done her!” Was the sarcastic retort.  No longer interested he stood and stepped into the stream that flowed between them.   Poseidon let himself relax into it.

Neptune watched Poseidon glisten and cascade downwards into the now golden coloured water.

“She caused untold mischief!”  He shouted to the dissembling creature before him.

Poseidon raised his hands, shrugged his shoulders and plashed as a golden waterfall into the fast running shallows before rolling into a golden wave that thrust itself away from the dark forest and along to the cragged shore line and into the sea as a final white horse splashing atop a crested wave.

“Maybe Medea and that Ferryman of hers have created a new force between them.”  Neptune stood, “Here, I have no salted tears but offer to nourish!” He spoke to that around him.

The broken trees twisted forwards.  The howling knots between scarred bark were silent as branches moved and cracked.

He pressed his trident into the moss and mould and down into the soil.  Holding the trident still he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.  His exhalation produced a heavy mist that covered the stark trees around.  A second exhalation and the mist thickened, coalesced and droplets sank into the ground like a sheet of melted ice.

Neptune slipped into the stream and meandered back to his salty home, hoping he had not offended Vidar one of the  forest gods,  by allowing his vexation to settle on their lands.

see tags:  The Frinks

Apprentice of Split Crow Lane, A Graph Review

A Graph Review    55 with high points to 65:

Victorian True Crime:bodies graph

The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane

(The story of the Carr’s Hill Murder)

by Jane Housham

Published by Riverrun,    November 2016

Hardback. £20.00.          ISBN 978 178648 158 0

appr-split-crow-coverThe central theme is the brutal murder of a five year old girl and a highly researched telling of that story.  Another, all encompassing theme is of local history-cum-social history around the period which unerringly links back to the central theme’s characters.  There is a substantial gathering of background scenery covering: living, labouring, policing, legal, medical and even the ‘politiking’ of the time and years prior to the murder.   Plus of course the careful analysis of the written evidence, newspapers and reports of and around the conviction and its aftermath.

A map is included of the relevant area, useful for me as the movements of numerous people are specified through different sections of the book.

Details of the police work, autopsy and inquest are carefully collated from assorted libraries, National Archives and newspaper records and clearly narrated as events progressed.

It is interesting to read of these now-historic procedures and be informed how and when some changes towards our current practices came about.  Just as interesting is how the models of procedure were being established and how use of forensic analysis was developing.

Moving on, the book explores and explains the fledgling positions of psychiatric analysis and the also the magistrate and county courts.  The author expertly weaves the events of the day from numerous accounts, official or newspaper into narrative as well as using current knowledge of routines to balance the historic methodology.   References abound for referring to at the back of the book, along with a thorough bibliography and index.

From the explorations in this book the movement towards  more sensitive and scientific judiciary and medical (emerging psychiatric) systems is well under way by the mid 19th Century.   A more humane face of all is offered here than you might have expected if you relied on Dickens. Admittedly Charles Dickens was writing from aslightly earlier date and was depicting the worst excesses of a city (London bias). He was at the forefront, as were many at this period, of pushing society forward.

1815…. Edward Wakefield report published 1815. Report of his visit to Bethlem hospital where amongst other things he had ‘seen both men and women, sometimes naked, chained to poles and strapped inside harnesses that inhibited almost all movement’.  Leading reformer Thomas Wakley introduced a more sympathetic, ‘Humane System’ in 1841 which opened asylums to official visitors and a separation of violent and non-violent inmates plus an end to restraints. Additionally, more staff.  The movement towards better conditions and freedoms had been publicly advocated by reformers in the early years of the century and continued throughout.   Broadmoor opened in 1863 by when the system proposed by Wakeley was well established throughout the country.   (See page 179 for description of ‘life in the new humane asylum’)…… note…. Clare’s last asylum seems to have been nearer to these ideals than many other county asylums. perhaps his celebrity status as a poet secured him best conditions, not forgetting that he may have been getting visits from other well-known, and articulate, friends and interested/influential people.

This story extrapolated from notes, reports and letters of Cuthbert’s life in the asylum is compellingly drawn, the story drifting to a sad end with his family moved to Canada and the inclusion of letters from his father to the authorities at Broadmoor.

But this is not the end of the book.  Another, similar case is briefly discussed following with the legal result. More follows with the discussions, arguments even, as to where insanity lies in the commitment of crime.  Again Carr’s case comes into this arena and judgements and texts are quoted from what became definitive books of the day on where accountability sits.

Maybe more could have been said of the degenerative effects of STDs  as they seem accepted as widespread and to have had a marked effect on society of the day.  However as this seems little discussed in the case notes it is understandable.

There is a fascinating look at the reasoning and development of medical and legal definitions of insanity and movements towards considerate treatment of those considered insane throughout the nineteenth century.  The murder by Cuthbert Carr is the central case but later introducing others to demonstrate legal and medical practitioners’ positions in mental capability.  Press and public opinion is well documented here as well as police, legal and medical (asylum) practice over a period where Victorian values were searching for the higher ground despite the still harsh grinding of the industrial revolution.

And all topped off with an appropriate poem by Vernon Scannell.

 

 

 

 

The Mystery of Catbrain Lane

WPC Winnie Maitland was new to policing.  This was her first posting after Passing Out and it had been to the sticks of Burnthorpe.  She was not very impressed.  Either with the town or its crime rates. Or rather what the crimes seemed to consist of.   “Mind you”, she thought, “it’s better to be outside than in that wretched little rest-room they put aside for the women working in the station.”

She shifted her feet into a more comfortable angle on the grass slope they stood on. Winnie was waiting for her companion to say something, or was he expecting her to conclude something from the scene?  She sighed and looked down at the mud now creeping over the toes of her once polished black lace-up shoes…”I suppose it’s better than talking lipstick with the secretary, or dress making with Sarg’s wife when she brings him the sandwiches he leaves behind.  Why won’t he tell her he hates sandwiches and eats at the pub?”

Winnie looked across the miniature valley again then at the young policeman at her side and back to the silent scene before them.   Her thoughts wandered: “I bet Wendy was picked up again last night. If I could talk with her, get her to explain what’s so wrong.  It must be something. I could help, whatever it is.”

“It’s a vardo.”   Walter Copper spoke at last.

“What is?”

“That is.”

“For goodness sake! The campsite, the tent, the caravan, maybe the horse?  Be more specific.  Please!”   Winnie didn’t have time for all this silence and now the guessing games.

“The caravan. They all live in it and travel in it.  It’s a  ‘vardo’,  a Romany caravan.  The children sleep in the tent if there is no room in the van.  There’s always some children.”

“There’s no-one about. It looks clean, even the wheels.”

“They always are.”

“The horse is just standing there, not even tied to a tree or anything.”

“Hobbled.”

“Oh.”  She was beginning to lose patience with this struggling conversation. “There’s no one there, it looks pretty.  Pretty okay, that is.  Shall we be off?”

With that she turned to walk back the way they arrived.

“Wrong way.” he said, ” Up through that open gate and down the lane at the back,” and walked forward down the little slope where the grass leaked into the mud at the side of the small brook running through the lowest point of this valley’s meadow.  WPC Winnie followed unhappily with each squelching step.

Walter took a large step over the narrowest part of the stream. Winnie stopped at the edge as it was too wide for her to step over with the uniform skirt she was wearing to below her knees. “Damn, how you’re supposed to be able to run in this!.”  Hesitating enough to let Walter move forward, he never bothered to look back, she took a step backwards. He continued forwards  toward the ‘vardo’.  WPC Winnie Maitland grabbed at the lower sides of the skirt with both hands and yanked the hemline up high and took a step and a leap over the brook, keeping sight of the spot for her landing.  At the high point of her exaggerated leap Walter turned to offer help just in time to see a flash of police woman’s black stocking top and white thigh.

She landed squarely, without slipping and brushed her skirt smoothly down. He was facing the caravan again as she looked up to follow.

gypsy-caravanHe stopped within a few feet of the steps down from the front of the  vardo, the lower half of its ‘stable’ door closed.  Winnie caught him up and continued to the tent beside the caravan, lifted the fly and peered inside.

“Looks cosy in here. The quilting is really pretty, all hand stitched and lots of it. Nobody in, of course.”  She stood up. “Come on Walter, my feet are soaking, can’t we get back to the station now?”

He stopped imagining the inside of the van, piecing what he could see with what he had been told as a youngster.  The bright paintwork inside and the clever fixtures with all the decorated panels and the nick-nacks and family icons, heirlooms, that would be safely packed away for the travelling and put on display when parked up for a few days, or weeks at a time.  Reverie broken he started to traipse up the slope to his companion and the open gate to the lane.

As he reached Winnie they heard a stifled, almost scream, from behind them and he grabbed at her arm. “What was that?”

“The horse?” She said hopefully and looked at the horse, still as a statue standing on three legs, its fourth slightly cocked, seemingly off the ground.  Head drooping slightly, ears just at alert, it didn’t seem interested in anything.

“I seen ya!”  A woman’s voice panted from inside the van.

Policeman looked at policewoman. “Come on”, he said and moved toward the van.  A gulped noise from the van and a pained, “Holy, holy, holy”.

Walter put a foot on the second step and grabbed at the ledge of the half-door ready to push himself into ‘who knows what’.  His head appeared above the door and he could see into the bright interior of the vardo.

“Don’t you dare come in here Copper. The woman can!”    His head remained in situ until he reversed quickly to the ground and pushed into the WPC as she stood at the bottom of the steps. She was knocked away as his back reversed into her.

“You go up, she needs you.”  His eyes were wide as he spoke.  His reaction seemed urgent so with a quick shrug of shoulders and a hoarse “What?”, at him.  She brushed him aside and climbed the steps.  At the top she looked in, “Oh no!”  Fumbled the bolt open and clambered into the cabin of the van.

“What do I do?”  She called from inside.

“You’ve done the course more recently than me.” He called back quickly, “Anyway, I’m not allowed in.”

The woman shouted at them to “stop mithering and shut up”.

“Shall I radio for help, for an ambulance?”  He called up to them.

“No!”  Yelled the woman.  Walter said no more and took his hand off the radio at his shoulder.

“What do I do now?”   He heard Winnie ask in a panicky voice.

“What I tell yoi.” The firm response.

Walter walked over to the horse at the rear of the caravan.  He was trying to keep out of the way but in earshot.  After some time he heard swearing, assumed it was the woman but couldn’t be sure.  Heard a short high-pitched scream that wasn’t the woman and more silence.   The horse responded to his rubbing its neck by pushing towards him and bending his neck so the brown and white head knocked into Walter”s arm.

“No, no apple for you, Pie”.  Rejected, the head turned away. Then he heard the wail from the van.  A thin, angry squeal that briefly filled the the scenic little meadow-valley they stood in.  The piebald’s ears twitched to alert in the direction of the sound.   PC Walter decided he had to go and do his duty and check on his colleague.

He gingerly tiptoed up the steps, peered over the ridge of the door and continued to the top step where he leaned on the ledge with both hands and spoke to the WPC,  “How is she?”

“She did fine,” said the woman quickly, now draped in a huge, hugely patterned quilt and sitting on a mound of cushions on the bench at the side.

“I thought she would faint but she kept a head on her shoulders.   Its her first one I reckon.” She continued, looking at Winnie.

WPC Winnie Maitland stood at the back of the vardo, next to the neat black-leaded stove, still warm from the small fire kept in it.   She held a bundled cream shawl in her arms and was beaming into the wrinkled face inside.

“Ere, give ‘er me.”  The woman waved her arms for the newborn baby and Winnie relinquished the baby-parcel to its mother.

“What type is it?” He screwed his eyes at his wrong words.

“It’s a girl-type.  You know, female?” Said Winnie.

“As long as its out, any type will do.”  Said the woman softly to the baby. She put her forehead to the babe’s then kissed the little creased brow.  The baby cried.  She rocked it in her arms.

“What will you call her?”  Asked Walter.

“What’s your name?” Came the reply, looking at Winnie.

“I’m Winnie and he’s Walter,” came the hopeful response.

“Well,  Winnie,  thanks for the help.  You can leave as soon as you like.  My girls will be back from runnin’ the town any minute now so you can trot along.  Their dad and the lads will get back before sunset so we can get on.”

“Oh.”  Winnie, slightly abashed,  looked at Walter, “Shouldn’t we stay, call a doctor or something?”

‘If she says we go we can go.” He shrugged.  “You said lads and girls, are you sure they able to help you. You might need help.”

‘Three boys with their dad and the two girls here at camp, should be enough for me to keep under me thumb.”

“Right then, I will radio in that we are back on the beat.”  Said Walter, ” Come along WPC Maitland”, and he turned down the steps to hear Winnie ask:

“Has she a name? I’d like to remember today, and her and all this, and you.”

“She’ll have my name, it’s Catherine.  She’s the sixth generation with the name.  In fact”, she continued proudly, “she’s the sixth generation to be born in this very spot. Not the van but this meadow.  We’ve travelled these lanes for a hundred years now, so be it, a hundred more.”

Winnie stroked a finger gently down the baby’s shawl, “‘Bye, Catherine”,  and stepped out and down to Walter.   They walked to the gate and onto the rough tarred road towards town.

“She didnt want us there, did she?”

“Doesn’t need us, once the baby’s born. In fact you turned up at the exact right time.”  Walking through the gate.

“Shall I shut it?” Putting her hand on the top of the five bar gate.

“No. she said they were returning soon”

“I hope the baby will be okay. I think I will get a midwife to call just in case.”

“She won’t thank you for it.

They continued down the lane and stopped at its junction with a properly metalled road back into town.  Two girls came screaming round the corner in long chequered dresses and flaring cardigans.  They stopped as they met the two police officers. Looked at them both.  Giggled into each other’s shoulders.  Whispered conversation briefly.  Within seconds they were separate again and looked at both constables. With another outburst of giggles they plonked the wicker baskets they were carrying on their heads with one hand and immediately danced round  the two adults with a teasing, “Copper Copper, who’s a Copper Copper?”  And were off up the lane apparently screaming in fear of their lives.

“That’s the two girls”. Walter remarked casually, watching them run away.

“You’ve seen them before, then?”

“Oh yes, a few times.”

Winnie walked to the turf at the side of the road and tried wiping the mud off her shoes and only succeeded in spreading it more thinly. “Damn”, she thought out loud.  Walter watched.

She saw the etched black letters of the road sign and made a connection,

“This is the same name as on the gate to that field. This is Catbrain Lane and that was Catbrain Meadow on the gate.  Where on earth does that name come from?  Was there a cat-murderer on the loose?”

Walter moved on, Winnie followed but they had to step into the gutter as a truck rushed towards them. One headlight was covered over with tape and they could see four hunched bodies squashed in the cab as it approached and sped past.  The klaxon sounded as it neared and a few hands waved gaily as it scrunched by. The sides were heightened by planks above the wooden sidewall. The two automatically turned to watch it hurl round the corner. It slowed right down, choked into a lower gear and blue-smoked its way round to roar up the incline.

“That’s the dad and brothers” he said turning back and walking on.

“She was right then.”

“She’s always right.”

“You know them all then?”  She was intrigued now. What mischief had they been up to?  She reckoned Walter Copper was the sort of bloke that always had mishaps and teasing.  Suspected he was easily embarrassed.  Wondered how he could actually be an effective policeman.  Began to think she wanted a different beat, or rather a different colleague to show her this tin-pot little town.

“Catbrain” he started.

“Who me?” She tried it as a joke, it landed nowhere.

“It’s not dead cats, you know.”  They were walking briskly now needing to get back to the station. They had kept in touch by the radio but now the desk sergeant was getting impatient. He had allowed them to deal with the emergency but was not happy with their inaction re medical care and wanted an immediate report written up.

“It’s a joke, sort of.”

“Some joke.”

“Well, yes.  That’s a Romany field up there, has been for years. Like she said, it’s been used as a laying-up camp for several generations.   A fact, it’s not generally known, but we do.  Old families in the town that is.”

“Come on,” she thought, get on with it.  Your so slow, just like everyone round here. “The travellers own that land?  I didn’t think they owned anything, just wandered around all the time.”

“Romany, gypsy.   She, they, are Romany, not travellers. There is a difference. They might own some land but only in place to place for stopping.  They don’t stay long in one place.  Always on the move to earn a living.”

“Like tinkers, you mean?”

“No, not like tinkers.”  He was getting sidetracked. “The name of the lane and the field.  The field came first but the lane just followed on with the same name after a while.  All fields had, well, have, names. They just do and Roads running by or to usually catch the name.  Like Church Road or Vicarage Lane in towns. ”

“Catbrain?”  She was scornful, “Some joke!”

“It’s that clan’s family name.” He paused too long and she made a noise of disbelief.

“The family name is ‘Brain’.    She told you, in the caravan. The baby’s name,”

“Is Catherine.  Is Catherine!  It’s Cat., short for Catherine.  Catherine Brain!”

“They keep the family first name, the ancestors if you will, in their memory. They keep them to themselves. They have special times, gatherings and storytelling.  Parties with memories and storeytelling; oral history.”

“Sagas round a camp fire?”

“They’re not Vikings! Well yes, family stories, true or just elaborated.”

“And this ‘joke’ does everyone know about it?”

“Not particularly, it’s not shouted about but I suppose outsiders do know.  They like to keep their secrets, their privacy. They don’t really see it as a joke, either.  Don’t go telling all and sundry.  I only told you because you helped the baby get born.”

She wasn’t bothered, it wasn’t too much of a secret to keep, easy to forget.  But watching a baby being born! That really would be something to write home about!  Though she did ask:

“How do you know all this if it’s a sort of secret joke?”

“Well.”   The station was in sight and he had to tell another sort-of secret.  “She’s my auntie, that’s why I had to stay out when she told me to.  My dad married one of her sisters and they set up home in  Burnthorpe.    I visit them when they arrive here.  Just to keep in touch.  They know I’m  police  but I promised to drop it whenever I am on their property.  Which I do, as long as I can.”

By which time they had reached the station, feet in unison up the two stone steps.  “It’s a sort of secret, though.”  He finally whispered into her ear.

Another one she felt able to keep.

 

for more visits, tag Burnthorpe

 

 

Riccy and Uncle Daeda

Eblow was always excited when his uncle and cousin arrived.  They would hammer on the heavy wolf’s-head knocker like Thor in anger then push their way in as someone opened the door a crack.  Daeda would call “Halloooo!” in the deepest, loudest voice you could imagine while his son RIccy would get caught up in the jolliest of moods and howl “Yahooo!” at the top of his voice till it threatened to crack the stained glass windows.  If the hound was in its basket it would often raise its heads and join the cacophony with yowls in loud appreciation of the disarray and adrenaline that had burst into the large room.

Whatever the time of year Riccy would warm his hands in front of the old log fire.  If summer and only a twist of smoke and lick of flame from a single log he would grab a poker and stir the embers until shocks of yellow and gold shot skywards like gold leaf before it disappeared.  As it did this day.

Eblow stood beaming at the welcome visitors as they bear-hugged his mother and father in turn as they entered the room from different doorways.  RIccy was bright golden-haired, a thinner copy of his father.  Both had the same elongated noses that made them look like birds from certain angles, especially when their eyes glittered with hawk-like ferocity.  The fire in their eyes was a sure sign that a scheme was ‘afoot’.  One or both would pace and sit, scratch in the sand or drag out a tablet to work on, as restless as the Lethe or Styx until ideas were resolved or just scattered to the gods as fruitless schemes.

Riccy was a good fifteen years older than  Eblow,  a man now, a worthy citizen like his balding, grey haired father but still a great playmate in Riccy’s eyes.  Eblow was even now grabbed up and swung round in circles until his eyes watered and his head turned into the whirlpool to be placed carefully on the couch and ruthlessly tickled.

If Acolyte entered then he would be treated more sedately as the elder of the brothers, a slow and studied bow and salute from RIccy followed immediately with the production of an egg from behind the boy’s ear or prod at the tunic on his chest from which would come a wriggle and a chirrup and Riccy’s hand would slip into the fold at the shoulder and out would come a small bird, a linnet or a lark to be cupped carefully and released at the door.

The entrance of Anvil, the youngest of the siblings would solemnise the whole room and all turn to watch RIccy sit on his knees to be almost eye-level with the little girl as she walked over to him. She would always tidy his long, blonde locks, move them away from his eyes and kiss him on the cheek.  Then clap her hands and with a big smile turn and jump onto his back whilst he leaned forward onto his hands and moved on all fours, bucking and neighing like a horse or a bull until he collapsed from tiredness and sore knees.

Daeda was an architect, an engineer; “a designer of great things!”  He would boom cheerily at his guests or when visiting family, even in public if he had something to say but when working he would focus on the problem and, these days, tread carefully.

“How’s business?” Asked Medea, her hair waving briskly in the draughts wafted by the visitors’ entrance.

“Ah,” said Daeda and smiled round at the children still surrounding his son and his magic tricks.  Daeda then turned aside, easing her round with an arm around her shoulders so he would not be heard or even have his lips visible as he spoke.        “I have a job, a big job. Lots of planning and even more building to do.  Minos has given me another project.”

“What!” She exclaimed in response, pushing her voice down to an incredulous whisper on an elongated word.  She bent her head down, overshadowing the balding head and looked at him sternly, scarily.  “After all this time?  After that mess you got into last time?”  She managed to keep her voice low, just.

He became slightly defensive as he spoke, ” It wasn’t my fault, you know.  I was commissioned to build it, a life-size statue.  She said it was a gift, a sort of companion.  Anyway this is for MInos, her husband the king, not Pasiphae”

“You don’t build a companion for a gift from the gods! ” She hissed, her dreadlocks now insinuating towards him. “Especially when it should be a noble sacrifice,”

“I didnt think, I….I., well it was…..a secret.”    He closed his eyes, embarrassed. “Pasi said it would be a great gift, that she felt sad for the bull. Said it was lonely.”    After so many years he was still quite proud of his unique construction.  No one in the world could ever create such a creature as realistic in every way, as he out of wood and hide.  How was he to know:  Pasi had challenged him to build it for her.  He could never resist a challenge, especially from a Queen.  And it was beautifully made, with space inside for Pasi to lie, to be close to that blessed white bull.  He never noticed how passionate she was about it, that she had saved it from sacrifice.  That she had fallen in love with it!

Such a mistake he had made. Poseidon had given the bull to Minos. Poseidon was the one who was so angered, how was he, Daeda to know that?  that..and what happened, they said……

Daeda had pondered this time and again.  He had heard of the birth to Pasi.  Heard that she had brought the child into the world and kept it hidden.  Rumours had spread the city, the state, even the circle of the world and now he knew that Poseidon had produced a sacrifice of another sort.

“But I have to accept it. He’s the king!”

Medea leaned away from him, looking sternly with her unblinking eyes.  She sighed and he saw her relax a little.  He regained himself and his confidence:

“It’s to design a complex building, and build it.  I have no time at all to do it so RIccy will assist full time.  We can have any workers we need as long as we’re fast.   It’s just near Knossos.  A Grand Design of passages and halls and alleys.  A giant maze, that’s what he wants.  Roofed and no windows. ‘For the child to play in, and have visitors’, Minos said.  He said it must be safe and secure. A massive project! and I am the man to build it,”  he said, proudly emphasising the last words.

“It’s your penance to Poseidon”, she whispered it into his face.

However, Daeda’s confidence had returned, “Maybe it’s for the pleasure of the gods!”

“Daedalus,” she continued,”  It may not be this, this…… labyrinth, for which you will be remembered.”   Medea shook her head and the long locks wraithed around her head.

“Even better, ” he responded, regaining the volume with extra confidence, “Icarus”, he called to his son,  “we have great things to do.  We must hurry along.  Say goodbye.”

RIccy stopped playing with his cousins and joined his father at the great door.  Quick goodbyes and they hurried into the sunshine.  “Hurry Icarus, we must fly!”

 

to see further stories tag; The Frinks

 

 

Horse Trading

Horse trading

Grey was depressed. He was listless and unable to eat. Mostly he just stood looking at the gap in the wall where the blank window opened onto the back yard. Easing from one foot to another as the time moved slowly onwards. He was not aware of time passing at all.  He would raise his head and maybe look round at sounds of people entering the building but not the sounds he wanted to recognise.

A woman’s voice, “How is he today? Eaten anything?”

The boy called out from the neighbouring stall, ” Nope!  Boss says the horse’ll have to go by tomorrow, one way or another.”  He came out and stopped to drop the empty bucket at the edges of the planked wall. The metallic clack of bucket on the compressed dirt floor and the echo of  handle on rim caused Grey to turn his head a little.

“He said there was no hurry!”  She reacted urgently.

“That was weeks ago. There is now. The chestnut is fading away. Costing money and got no value.  Told me to tell you.  He wants his money ’cause the horse ain’t worth it no more.”     His voice raised for the last sentence as he walked out of the livery building.

“Shit!” Said the woman, pushing a clumped ringlet off her face.  She moved over to the edge of the stall and unhooked the rope at the front. Slipped inside, leaned on the wall as she rel-looped onto the hook. Then turned herself to look at the horse’s hindquarters presented to her.

“Oh, Grey.” She said loudly, sadly, “What are we going to do with you?”

The horse looked round, twitched ears in response following with a snort of air through large rubbery nostrils and a briefly rising upper lip.  Into silence again, silent contemplation of the window frame.

The woman stepped carefully over the straw not wanting to get muck on her boots and stood at the horse’s head.  She took the old carrots from her apron pocket. One hand stroking from the velvet  forehead down to the limp nostrils while she proffered the carrots. She whispered encouragingly to the horse imploring it to eat more, eat properly as it had in the first few days.   The carrots were sampled, eaten but not with enthusiasm.

She stroked the long muzzle. The horse slightly raised its head, the woman felt as though the two large eyes were fixed on hers despite the width of the forehead and their sideways bulge. “I have to go,” she finally whispered, “we’ll sort it.”

A final pat on the horses cheek and she stepped carefully out of the stall.  The horse turned away, returning to its apparent meditation.   The woman pushed back her hair again, brushed down the apron, took a deep breath and made herself stride out of the livery stable into the street toward the tented canteen at the other end of the wooden and canvas town.

For the next two hours she dished and  served the regulars and the new arrivals, passing through or hoping to strike it rich. None of that rich would happen, the gold rush had moved away, the rail tracks were pushing forward to the mountains now so the only hope of a living was to join a team of navvies or hook into their suppliers. Either of which was almost a lost cause, sewn up by the company managers, desperate to keep their costs down and schedules on time. Some people could make a fortune but rarely the man shifting iron or laying the trackway.

People were hired, imported and used, hardly able to walk away as much of their pay was in tokens to be cashed at the local stores and saloons, usually at drop-jaw rates.  Tied into staying in the town unless they literally walked away with the clothes they stood in.

As the queue shuffled along and along, with the other women she, Martha, knocked the beans, or rice, off the big spoons and onto the large metal plates. She responded to the men’s nods and grunts towards their choices with a smile and those that had some words of English she replied to  briefly, cheerfully.    The overseers would have separate bench and tables where food was left in the deep metal trays for them to help themselves.  They would get eggs or tomatoes or grits, which and whatever was available for a breakfast.  Bread, new or old.  Coffee pots tested and replaced with filled ones as the meal progressed.

The bell would be rung by a man man walking through the navvies’ tables. Breakfast stopped and the exodus to the wagons would begin.  Still a short journey to the rail-end but many miles to xonstruct before they skirted the mountain ranges and filtered towards the coast and the fast growing towns and prosperous fishing and portage quays. When the rail-laying got more distant the labouring would be tented where the train could reach safely. Be stopped, coaled and watered as a regular workhorse in supplying the men but more importantly keeping speed with delivering rail-bed, track, sleepers and all the other assorted equipment and tools to maintain the fastest levelling and laying possible.  The fastest track to the coast would get the pick of the contracts and this company intended to be first.

This day the men would be returning to town but soon they would be living under canvas until they reached the coast. Then the majority would be dropped and left to their own devices in deciding where to go, what to do and most importantly, how, with still so little money.

The women behind the trestles were running out of food just as the last of the workmen drifted in to pass over their tally for the meal.  A couple of stray youngsters dashed over to hustle any leftovers which were plated up for them by one of the sympathetic ladies.  Martha and Sarah moved out to the benches and tables to collect the abandoned mugs and plates, skipping round the legs and occasional arms of the men still there.

“Anywise”, continued Sarah, ” the saloon will still be there and with the traintrack moving on there will always be men goin’ up and down the line. Stoppin’ off here for a bit of fun. ”

“I thought you wanted to get out of it?”

“Customers can be generous at times, I’m savin’ to get out. I will. Herbi will have to do without his percentage when I’ve gone. He says he will replace me soon anyway”

“That’s when he cuffs and curses you!  He likes it too much, that man. Draws blood then gets a hard on.” Martha stifled the next words and stomped back to the small tin bath where they washed the used dishes.  Sarah slowed to collect the last of the enamelled mugs and hugged them close as she joined the silence with Martha.

“Because you’re so aloof, aren’t you!” A retort long in coming and quickly regretted. “No, I meant it because you’re lucky.  You’re not tied, not indebted like me.”  Sarah attempted a smile at Martha’s words and nodded in apparent agreement but said nothing.

The two women, and the others bustled about and eventually closed the lids on the boxed plates, mugs, cutlery and all other small parafinalia that need protecting from the weather, dirt and dust until tomorrow.    The fire under the barrel for hot water was put out. The huge grill was already almost out of glow so all jobs were donewith until the following morning when the whole day was repeated.

“See you tonight?” Asked Sarah, ” it’s a quiet night, there’s no money around.”

“Maybe.”

“I just said!  Look, I’m just mouthy. I say things, I don’t think. Sorry!”  Sarah stroked Martha’s arm in further apology then walked away from the canteen to her room at the saloon.

Martha collected the large tray covered by a clean linen cloth and walked over to the Main Street, crossed carefully across the muddied street and continued to the wooden building opposite the saloon.  It was the one thing she still had in the despairing little town of Silver City, two rented rooms in a building she and her late husband used to own.   It still had the M.D. shingle outside and the word ‘Surgery’ painted on the frosted glass window but on the wooden steps up to the door a plank lay from bottom to top step with the word ‘Undertakers’ painted vertically downwards.

She climbed the ubiquitous outside stairs and at the landing she balanced the tray on one hand and breast to open the door. Reversing the operation inside she heard and accompanying click to that as she pushed the door closed.    Taking a breath to regain her presence she paced the distance across the room to the partially open door of the bedroom. “It’s Martha,” she stated loudly enough and pushed the door wide with the edge of the tray.

The man propped up on her bed sank back into the pillows and lowered the pistol onto the bed covers.  Matter of factly she put the tray on the cleared space on the chest of drawers, turned and lifted the gun off the covers and carefully lowered the hammer down to rest and placed it beside the tray.

“Well at least you are beginning to take notice rather than sleep all day.  Some food.”  After putting the gun in the top drawer she passed a spoon to the man and carried the dish to him, “Stew and gravy and bread.  And if you can hold a gun on me you can feed yourself.”   She stuffed a pillow behind him to raise him up. He still yelped a little when she moved him,”You can stop that, too.”

She continued holding the dish steady on the eiderdown as he poked at and ate some of the meat.”.  Are you thinking straight today?  Do you know how long you have been here? Do you know where here is?”

“As good as.  Days, several, I guess. And here is here. Yours?  It sure has no hotel benefits.”

He ate carefully.

“Two weeks. You should be dead. I got them to bring you here. If you hadn’t lived the Undertakers is just downstairs.”

“Give the doc my thanks.”

“He’s dead.”

“Oh.”  His memory jogged somewhere that she was a doctor’s wife. Was. Was. “He’s dead”

“That’s what I said.” She continued. She had a lot to say while he was still weak and awake.  ” I still have his bag and tools; instruments.   I got quite handy watching and helping, as his nurse.  Had to pull the bullet out from the other side so you have holes front and back. Sorry.   But you are alive.”

“And still leaking like a sieve.”  He looked down at the bandage round his chest with its red line drifting through it.

“You just did that yourself, getting the gun. As I said, you are alive.”

He pushed the plate to the edge of the bed. Martha’s hand reacting to his attempt to move it.  As she moved her hold he grabbed at her wrist and held it tightly, he thought, ” Why bother?”

She removed his hand and took the plate away.  “Do you want some coffee?  I brought it over, it will still be warm, not hot.” He turned his head to the window, closed his eyes.  She ignored him and  got the coffee.

“You should be mobile in a few days. I am wondering what you will do?”

“Report back and start again.”

“Where’s that?”

“New York”.

She held her voice steady and changed the subject, “the livery want paying for your horse. Today, tonight.”

She paused, he said nothing but turned and reached for the mug she was holding and took a swallow.

“Still warm.” He handed it back and leaned back on the pillow.

“They mean today. They kept the horse fed and watered but it is over two weeks and they want their money or the horse is sold, tomorrow. Grey, your horse.” She emphasised the last three words.   “Have you got the money?” She knew the answer having had ample time to ferret through his saddle bag,  bed-roll and clothes.

“Nope.”  Pause. Wry grin.  “I will if they give me my job back, in New York!”

Martha felt herself pull back at the words. Not what she expected to hear but spoke,

” Pinkerton, your wallet says..”

“Those were the days.”  He shook his head slowly. “Gave up, sold up, drank up.  ‘Til I got news of those two. Followed their tracks right out here, town after scrubby town to this dirt-hole of a place. Still, made my peace with them.”

“You killed them!”

“Yep!” He looked out of the window stained by the dusty rains. “With a bit of help.”

“The horse, Grey?”

“Yea, a lucky trick. Useful but not what I trained him for.”

“So, you are not a Pinkerton. No money, no work.  No prospects from the sight of you lying there. You’re getting blood on the the sheets, again.”

He shifted to sit himself up further to look at the blood now dribbling below the bandage.   Martha put the coffee on the chest of drawers  and  set about finding clean dressings and bandages.

“What about the horse?”  She called from the other room.

“I will steal him tonight and just drift away.”

“You’ll be dead in a few days. From the wound or the posse. Herbi  won’t let it go.  You need a quiet few weeks before you can ride distances let alone live rough now.”

“I’ll steal him early in the morning then, after a rest”. He lay back and Martha abandoned the idea of changing the dressings for a while.

She looked at him. Stubble thick on his face hiding the paleness of his skin under the weathered tan.  He was nothing like her dead husband but had an attraction that caught her when she first saw him.  Stray men were always riding into town, loitering around her or the other women, either at the canteen or in the saloon she had taken to visiting, for the company.  Sarah was the most friendly, the woman who helped her when her husband, the doctor, was killed.

Martha had seen this stranger at the canteen. They had locked eyes, she never did that, but he was looking at her in a relaxed, comfortable and direct gaze which felt right in responding to.  Why she took him food in the saloon she had no idea. Helping a stray, she put it down to. Young boys, maybe so but never the likes of him. Dirty, rag-tag man who looked too useful in a fight; and carried a gun.  She stopped looking at him on the bed and turned to pick up the tray.  The gun lay heavily, dangerous, in the open drawer. She pushed the drawer shut, too carefully, she realised as she spoke.

“I can pay for the horse.  As payment you can ride with me.  I want to leave in three days. If you can sit in a buckboard by then.  Grey, your horse can tag on the back.”

“Leave?”

“I sold up. Rent is done to the weekend so I am leaving.  With or without you.”  She picked up the tray.   “I’ll be back in a couple of hours, four o’clock.  Grey will be sold at six tonight.   I will expect an answer. “She looked back at the grimace as he moved to say something and saw the blood oozing down through the hair on his chest.  “I will sort that out and bring your clothes back. At four.” And walked out of the bedroom leaving the door open, put the tray on a table and marched outside, down the stairs without stopping or looking back.

He watched her skirts sway through the doors, dismissed by the closing of the outer door.  Hanging  on the high bedpost was his grimy hat, below it the now empty belt and holster.  A brief look round the room confirmed he had no clothes and he sighed back onto the pillow.  No contest.

……………….

She returned promptly at four with a mug of coffee and clean clothes.

“You can have my husband’s last two shirts. Your pants are okay but holes and blood ruined your shirt.”

He looked at the clean white linen in dismay.  Martha dropped them on the bed, gave him the coffee and left the room.  Sitting up he realised the ooze had stopped and congealed. He tried the coffee, cool enough to drink but almost tasteless.

Martha returned with clean bandages and a wash bowl. ” Don’t complain about the coffee, it’s all you get.”    She set about unwinding the dressings on his chest and washing  the wounds with diluted iodine.   He could just get his eyes to focus on the welted, burnt hole by his collarbone but his “Aghhh” and jerk reaction told him the departure point of the bullet was bigger and much more ragged than the entry.  The woman carefully rebound the wounds, pulling the lint tight around his chest, relaxing slightly as he winced and finally looping, tucking and knotting the ends.  He lay back, seemingly exhausted.  She did not mention the horse, nor did he, just closed his eyes to shut out the ache.

Silently she left the room, closed the door, tidied her things in the other room and hauled out a couple of carpet bags from under the small drop-leaf table in the corner.  From inside one she took a pouch, undid the cord and counted out the dollars, quietly.    She abandoned the bags on the floor and left with one hand deep in her pinafore pocket, clenched round the pouch with its remaining contents.  She closed the outer door, quietly locked it. Paused, took a decisive breath  and proceeded down the wooden staircase, across the still muddied Main Street and towards the Livery Stable.

A short, failed bargaining later and she left the stable with no dollars, not even the pouch, but leading and pulling a recalcitrant horse, Grey.  They made their way to the back of her old building, now the Undertakers and into its yard where she could safely stable this sad horse with her old one. She hoped the two horses would get on better than she and the man seemed to.  Then she returned to the Livery and shortly retraced back to her stabling, carrying the saddle with stirrups crossed over the seat.  The rifle swinging awkwardly for her as she slipped through the mud.   At the enclosing stable gate in the small barn she swung the saddle onto the top rail, dragging her arm out from under the leather.  By the time Martha lifted the kit bag from around her neck and unfolded the saddle blankets off it, she was hot and flustered.  She hung the bag from the pommel and laid the blankets along the remaining space on the gate.  At which point she was angry at herself for buying a man’s horse, for making decisions he wasn’t aware of. Determined to carry it through despite the fluttering worry of it being wrong, too wrong and looking disaster in the face!

Martha stood, wiped her hands over her screwed-up eyes and down her face and sank them into the now empty pocket, except for her key. She pushed air noisily out of her mouth and opened her eyes. Two horses responded with heavy, noisy,  sweet breaths and vibrating lips, teeth pushed forward and eyes that looked balefully towards her before turning their heads away.

“Yeah, sure! Me too!”  And she walked away, ” ‘Night, you two!”

…………………………………

The street was deadly quiet, all black and moonless with just enough starlight to see buildings as hulked shadows of broken skylines.   The rapid knocking on the door disturbed Martha, woke her.  She lay on the settle while her senses cleared and the knocking grew louder and she heard the voice calling her name. Sarah’s voice.

“Jeeze, what now?”  She got up, fumbled for a coat and had it over her shoulders to open the door a little.  Sarah pushed her head through the gap, pushed harder and into the room.

“We’ve gotta go!  He’s gotta go! You too if your sensible. I can go with you. Now!”

Sarah was holding Martha’s shoulders urging action with every hoarse whisper. “Now, before dawn or it will be too late!”

“What?”  As a doctor’s wife she was used to patients and call-outs but Sarah made no sense. Sarah added a few more words and brought in the hold-all she had dropped outside at the door.

Martha raised her hands to quiet Sarah and find herself time to absorb Sarah’s story.  They both heard the creaking of the springs behind the closed bedroom door.

The door opened and they automatically turned to look.   He saw the two women standing stock still as he pushed the door wide.  One with saloon-bar satin dress, low-cut with lace frilled up to the black velvet band round her throat, the other in a checked linen nightshirt of her late husband and his long grey raincoat over that.  Seeing the two women as they turned towards him he too stopped.

Silence while all three took in the scene.

“It’s Sarah. Put your gun away and go and put some clothes on.  We have to leave.” Sarah’s tone left no room for refusal from a still-drowsy and injured man. He turned back into the room and closed the door quietly.

Another pause. The two women leaned on each other’s shoulder and stifled their laughter at the retreat of the big naked man with a revolver.   But the humour soon turned to urgency, speed, as Martha collected the few things she just had to pack. Two carpet bags and a horse and buggy, all she had left to show for her thirty years.

Martha dressed quickly while Sarah repeated her news that some men were coming for ‘the Pinkerton’ and that Martha would get hurt if in the way and she, Sarah, would ‘get it’ if they found out she had informed.  “So you said I should go with you. Now I think I have to, or we’re all dead!”.

Hurriedly packed, a look round the room and Martha went into her old bedroom to see if he had dressed as she told him. She was afraid he wouldn’t manage, if so he might struggle on the buckboard. There was no alternative.  The town had no law, the bosses in the saloon held sway over the town, almost all its folk and especially the women working in the saloon and the navvies tied to the railroad.   He was sitting on the bed. Dressed but looking at his boots, somewhat forlornly, unable to pull them on.  Kneeling down she helped him struggle into them, instructed him to push as she pulled, encouraging him to be quick. She blushed quietly as she felt herself moving away from nursing mode to something more than mothering.

She rose and helped him up.

“Get yourself a coffee.” She told him. “Sarah, come help with the buckboard.”  They both slid out of the door, down the stairs and round to the stable at the back.

There, they quickly reversed the mare into the shafts, hooked up collars, bridles, traces.  Hoisted the three bags that now contained all they were able to take onto the rack at the back and strapped the tarpaulin cover over them.  Martha then had to rush back and undo the buckles in order to lug the saddle into the space followed by the bedroll and blankets and refix the tarp and buckles.  The Winchester and saddlebags she pushed under the small backseat.

“Hitch the chestnut to the back and I will get himself down here,” she said hurriedly to Sarah and was scuttling up the stairs before the last word.

Dressed and on his feet he may have been. Walking he was able but lurching down the stairs was too much and he was leaning heavily on Martha as they rounded into the Undertakers small yard and stable.

“Back seat! She ordered.  Tried to heave him in but they stalled.  She called Sarah and the two women managed to shove him over the rim of the buggy and high enough to twist and sink onto the second row of wooden bench.  He sat in the middle, each hand gripping each arm bracket of the seat.  He said nothing but swore heavily to himself as he stabilised his head and body over the pain that ticked rapidly in the beat of his pulse.

Sarah climbed into the front seat and the buckboard sank at the movement and then to the opposite corner as Martha climbed up then creaked ots springs and settled.  The man breathed with relief, carefully.

“Let’s go!” Martha picked the rains, gave them a shake and a “Move on!” and with another encouragement the mare took the strain and jerked the now weighty cart and its motley passengers into life.  Wheels turned and they trundled out into the street and with a heavier flick they gained a little speed down the Main Street. Hooves and wheels quietened a little by the mud.

Grey, hitched to the rear of the vehicle was not amused and dragged at the initial pull.  As they turned out of the yard he tuned his steps to that of the mare in harness and accepted the situation.  The horse could smell his usual rider and see the huddle at the back of the cart, smelling different to normal but near enough.

“You got my horse.”  Said the man.

“You mean my horse.”Said Martha, “I hope he’s worth it, his keep took all my money.”

“Yours?”

“MIne.  You can keep his name, Grey.  I’m calling him Brownie.” She said with a hint of challenge

“I’ll buy him back when we get to a bank and telegraph office.”  He spoke.    Silence.

They hit the end of town and turned onto the empty but well used wagon trail.

“Wrong way already.” He called out painfully.  “West is the other way. You can get trains to New York two days away, west.”

“You’re with us now.” Martha called back cheerfully. “We are going to Portland.”

“Do you know how far that is?”  He was startled, no strength to argue, yet.

“Yup!”  She swallowed hard and said cheerfully, “Back in town they will follow us to the trains. If they bother.  We left some clues for them to follow you; all the way to New York if they are really after you.  We two are just lost baggage to them. If they find you in New York you’ll have to look out for yourself.  If you live through to Portland, that is.”

“Portland!”  He grimaced and clung on.

grey-imageGrey heard the voices, recognised the man’s swearing and settled into the rhythm of this strange journey.  He was feeling better already, except for the word Brownie!

 

 

 

 

 

tags: Abbot’s Road, Grey Riding